Since the mid 2000s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has joined the push to go green. Green leafy vegetables provide a powerhouse of nutrients that play major roles in chronic disease prevention and digestive health. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women following an average 2,000-calorie diet should consume 1.5 cups of dark green vegetables each week.
Benefits of Greens
Green leafy vegetables, such as bok choy, kale, spinach, Swiss Chard and collard greens are known for their nutritional punch. These colorful vegetables provide vitamins A, C and K. Vitamins A and C are antioxidants, disease-fighting substances that protect your cells from damage, and your body needs Vitamin K for blood clotting. Dark green veggies also provide folate, a crucial vitamin for pregnant women, because it promotes healthy cell growth and reduces the baby's risk of developmental problems. If you want to boost your fiber intake, green leafy veggies will do the trick. Fiber regulates cholesterol levels and promotes healthy digestion. According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, 1.5 cups of spinach provides 5 grams of fiber, or 20 percent of a woman's fiber needs for the day.
How to Eat Them
Leafy greens can be enjoyed in many ways. You can steam or saute them for a quick side dish, enjoy them raw in a salad, toss them in a soup or pasta dish, or add them as a topping for your sandwich. No matter the method you choose, it is important that you eat healthy, unsaturated fats with your leafy green vegetables, according to research published in August of 2009 by the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." The presence of unsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts, salad dressings, canola oil and fish enhance your body’s ability to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, Vitamins A and K. If you want a light and healthy lunch, try a strawberry spinach salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. For a delicious side dish, enjoy cooked collard greens made with garlic and olive oil.
Fresh versus Frozen
The debate over fresh or frozen vegetables is s classic as the birth order of the chicken and the egg. Either option, fresh or frozen, offers you the chance to consume leafy greens year-round in a variety of dishes. Picked during their peak seasons, frozen veggies undergo quick processing to maintain their nutrient content, and they provide an economical alternative during the off season. Fresh, leafy greens, packed with the same nutrients, allow you to create salads and sandwiches with an added crunch. With a little prep work, the proper cooking techniques and appropriate food pairings, you will be on your way to 1.5 cups of vitamin-packed leafy greens per week.
Organic versus Conventional
You may wonder if the surge in available organic produce is worth tightening your food budget to buy organic leafy greens. The Environmental Working Group has created a dirty dozen list in which consumers are advised of the 12 most hazardous fruits and vegetables. Of those 12, spinach, kale and collard greens make the rankings. Grown closely to the ground, all leafy greens pose the risk of being laden with pesticides as they make their way from ground to table. If greens are consumed conventionally, you take the risk of exposing your body to 10 pesticides per day, on average. If the higher cost is not an option, the Environmental Working Group suggests buying local domestic produce because international products, on average, contain higher pesticide residue and pose greater risks.
- USDA: Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Center for Young Women’s Health: Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection; Melody J. Brown, et al; August 2004
- "Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture"; Nutritional Comparison of Fresh, Frozen and Canned Fruits and Vegetables; Joy Rickman, Diane Barrett and Christine Bruhn; April 2007
- Environmental Working Group: EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides
- green vegetables image by archana bhartia from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.